Five Deadlines and an Interview

As most of you will know April and May tends to be a tense time for students. We have deadlines followed by exams and if you’re unlucky other deadlines will follow. My deadlines have included three essays, one lab report, and a project note book (PNB, a long and time consuming summary of all the conservation research, work and thinking you’ve done). I was also offered an interview for a travel grant to help fund my summer placement in Turkey. Wonderful, and unexpected, but it took me back a bit. To cope with the incoming wave of stress I applied for extensions after the Easter holiday, and received them for all the essays and the PNB in the end. Without them I’m not sure I would not have been able to hack it.

For this post I wanted to talk about why some people need extensions. I know it can be frustrating watching people get more time on something that you’re working hard for, especially since everyone has something to worry about. As with everything it’s very personal. We all react differently to our problems and we all work differently.

My anxiety has always had a detrimental affect on my university work. Lack of concentration is my biggest foe. It’s taken me days to get through an article, and I cannot account for how I spent the time. The initial lack of concentration is then paired with a determination to do anything but the essay or research I had planned for the day. I loose days watching endless YouTube videos and turn my attention to more enjoyable projects. By the late evening the regret has started to set in. I write to do lists and think about how I should have done something. This will be followed by an hour or two of trying to work, often to no avail. Then I’ll go to bed. I won’t have achieved anything and I’ll feel awful for it. But that’s not a bad day.

On a bad day it can take me hours to get out of bed. These days aren’t racked by panic or fear; there’s nothing there. On those days I can’t do something I enjoy let alone something I need to do. The few months between Christmas and Easter were full of these days. But I’ve been lucky; spending a week or two at home over the holiday has helped a lot. I was able to keep going, and have largely kept my head above the water.

In the sea of things I needed to do and were worrying about in the run up to May the interview sunk. I did limited preparation and put off booking the train tickets. My train from Cardiff was late and I made it to the interview with seconds to spare. However, the lovely people of the Zibby Garnett Travel Scholarship made me feel very comfortable and I kept my head. Although my lack of prep came through I was able to demonstrate my enthusiasm (which I am not lacking!). I am lucky to say they have elected to provide funding for the trip. It’s a wonderful opportunity! The panic that rose and fell as I travelled was kept under wraps and I was able to be without it.

This is not the first time I’ve had extensions, as I struggled through an exam period during my undergrad. It is, however, the first time I’ve really needed them. It’s like trying to read a book in a language you don’t understand. Like trying to write an essay while someone throws things at you. Like trying to read a book while the words disappear.

I have worked very hard this year and I do not want my grades to suffer because my head has been elsewhere. Attending my classes regularly was a good way to get to me to the university and help retain a sense of order in my life. By using extensions I was able to prevent a disaster and keep my anxiety behind the flood gates.

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Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for a while now, but as its Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week it seemed the perfect time to start.

My history with depression and anxiety is short, I’ve only been on medication since January, however I’ve frequently found myself at low points over the last few years.

Like many I have had difficult relationships, including issues with my partner’s mental health and emotional and verbal abuse. Those five years caused me to withdraw and become emotionally distant with those around me. Not only that; it left me with low confidence in all aspects of my life and myself. Crying and arguing in a café in Paris will always dark time for me. I visited doctors at various points during these years however the boyfriends were used as scapegoats and I never received any serious attention. I sought non-medical routes as well, and though counselling helped, I only really recovered post-break up.

Lets jump to the end of 2015 and I’m in a new city, doing something I’ve been working towards for a while now (and love), and it all starts to slip away again. Stress and the need to be productive struggle against each other, ultimately resulting in more stress. By Christmas I was no longer sleeping properly and no longer enjoying anything. However, it was not until I went home for the holiday that I realised that it wasn’t normal. I was fighting back tears in the kitchen while my family laughed watching TV, but when I returned to them I was normal. I kept it all together, not wanted to ruin Christmas, until I was dropped back off at university and within hours I had a break down on the phone. It was only then I realised that this wasn’t normal, and its only now that I can see I haven’t been normal for a long time.

I had my first panic attack in January and with that sought help from my doctor. Since then I’ve been placed on anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants, they have helped. For me, however, it’s the anxiety that keeps coming back. Sleepless night and mornings of waiting for mild panic to subside are still a regular occurrence. I am coping better though, I am able to focus better on bad days and have concurred social anxiety at an international conference. My second panic attack occurred minutes before I was set to give a presentation, and somehow I managed to maintain my composure and deliver.

For the first few months I was ashamed. Why couldn’t I cope with things others could? Although I still have that question I can see now that the why doesn’t matter. What matters is that I don’t let it affect my life. I’m planning a trip over the summer and I refuse to back down due to my fears.

I’m very good at hiding my feelings, but I no longer want to. It’s a part of who I am and probably always will be. The further I bury it the more viciously it attacks; so its time to bring it to the surface.

Depression and anxiety are often hard to see, but for many it hangs over like a dark cloud. We need to be help, but not patronise. Support but not shelter. Awareness is the first step.